The Montgomery County, Md., judge who said “it takes two to tango” before sentencing a man to less than two years in prison for molesting an 11-year-old Rockville, Md., girl has a history of controversial rulings in sex-offense cases.
In January 1998, Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson sentenced former Einstein High School coach Andre Kelley to 17 years in prison but suspended all but six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually abusing five students.
Six months later, he found Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools bus aide Ezaria Ezar Ilkahnoff, 63, not guilty of sexual abuse, assault and sexual offenses against five special education students. Judge Thompson said the Russian-born Mr. Ilkahnoff was from an old culture that allowed his touching students as a form of friendship and affection.
Judge Thompson appointed by former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the circuit court in 1994 also said the children rehearsed their court appearances, which brought a sharp denial from Robert L. Dean, then state’s attorney, who said “they were being prepared, not coached.”
Five months later, Judge Thompson ruled that a Connecticut woman who accused Washington Wizards professional basketball player Juwan Howard of sexual improprieties during a party at his Potomac House should pay Mr. Howard $1 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
On Tuesday, Judge Thompson sentenced Vladimir Chacon-Bonilla, 24, to 18 months in prison and three years of probation for molesting an 11-year-old girl, who told police she met him in an Internet chat room and twice had sex with him.
At sentencing, the judge told the victim’s family the girl bore some responsibility for what had happened.
“I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here,” Judge Thompson said, pointing out that the preteen girl invited the then-23-year-old Alexandria, Va., man she had met on the Internet into her home.
The girl’s mother found the former U.S. Marine, his pants around his ankles, hiding in the child’s closet, at 3 a.m. on July 23.
The light sentence Chacon-Bonilla faced up to 20 years behind bars has drawn sharp criticism from Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.
Mr. Gansler said the 18-month sentence is not nearly enough for Chacon-Bonilla, an El Salvadoran citizen who has spent most of his life in the United States.
“This was not a tango. This was sex between an adult and a vulnerable little girl. By the legal definition, he is a sexual predator,” Mr. Gansler said. “We do know he drove from another state to have sex with a little girl… . He’s a rapist. He’s precisely the kind of person we don’t want in this country.
“He’ll be out of jail in six months,” said Mr. Gansler, who wants the man deported. Mr. Gansler said yesterday he will notify the Immigration and Naturalization Service officials about the case.
Mr. Gansler said the judge also erred in ruling that the defendant should not be required to register as a sex offender.
Defense attorney Rebecca A. Nitkin said her client deserves another chance. She said Chacon-Bonilla moved to the United States when he was 5, played soccer at West Potomac High School, served four years in the Marine Corps, was married to a woman with a degree from Princeton University, has no previous criminal record and is genuinely remorseful.
She agreed with Judge Thompson’s comments. “Thank God the judge has enough guts to say exactly what the situation was,” Ms. Nitkin said yesterday. “She appeared to be 18. He had the guts to say so. I was tiptoeing around that.”
Chacon-Bonilla testified the girl claimed to be 18 when he became acquainted with her on the Internet last spring. He said he did not know her true age until her mother screamed, “She’s only 11!” upon discovering him in the closet of the girl’s bedroom.
Ms. Nitkin said the girl was wearing makeup and a slit skirt on the two occasions that she met Chacon-Bonilla. The sentencing report said at least three men stated the girl was usually on the Internet until 2:30 a.m., sending sexually explicit messages.
“When he found out she was 11, he got physically sick,” Ms. Nitkin said.
The judge’s “tango” remark came after the girl’s father said his family had been destroyed by what had happened. “This was very intrusive and disruptive and harmful, but it has not wrecked anyone’s life,” Judge Thompson said.
The judge’s statement mirrored a July 1998 report by the American Psychological Association, which stated that sex between children and adults is not necessarily harmful and that, if the children were willing participants, such sexual relationships should be labeled in scientifically neutral terms.
Both the House and Senate eventually passed resolutions condemning the report. The APA later rejected the report’s findings and apologized to Congress for its release.
Judge Thompson yesterday issued a statement defending his ruling.
“The sentence exceeded the recommendation from the Department of Parole and Probation,” he wrote. He also cited the fact that this was Chacon-Bonilla’s first offense.
Judge Thompson, who has been on the bench for six years, said judicial ethics rules prohibit him from publicly discussing the Chacon-Bonilla case.
Born Aug. 5, 1942, in the District of Columbia, Judge Thompson graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1964 and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1967.
He was then a law clerk in Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals, served in the Maryland National Guard until 1972, and U.S. Army Reserves until 1973. He is married to NBC News correspondent Lea Thompson.